- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wisconsin’s strict voter laws, including voter ID, can remain in effect this November, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, delivering a victory to anti-fraud activists who have watched as the courts have chipped away at measures designed to tighten the rules on who can vote and when.

Across the country in Texas, meanwhile, a federal court issued a final order laying out restrictions on that state’s voter-ID law, including allowing those who swear they have a good reason for lacking identification to vote anyway, as long as they can show a utility bill or some other proof they are who they say they are.

Those are just two of the ongoing battles pitting voting-rights activists against anti-fraud crusaders, with voters waiting and watching. Other court fights are still raging in North Carolina, Kansas and North Dakota.

“Millions of people are affected by these laws,” said Wendy R. Weiser, director of the democracy project at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Courts in Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Kansas have ruled against identity requirements, in many cases finding that the state legislatures that pursued the restrictions did so specifically to discriminate.

In Wisconsin, the state law said voters needed to show a form of approved ID to cast a regular ballot. A lower federal court ruled that discriminated against those who lacked ID, and said anyone, regardless of reason, could check a box saying they were unable to present identification, and their vote would still be counted.

A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision and let Wisconsin’s law go into effect for November, saying the district judge bungled the ruling and it’s too close to the election to be altering the rules anyway.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declared victory.

“Voter ID is a reasonable measure to protect Wisconsin voters against cheating and make sure every vote counts,” the GOP governor said. “Voters in Wisconsin support voter ID, and our administration will continue to work to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

Voting-rights groups disagreed, and held out hope that the full circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court itself might overturn Wednesday’s ruling.

And they looked more favorably on Texas, where voting-rights groups and the state came to an agreement after a federal appeals court there said the state’s strict ID requirement — seen as one of the toughest in the country — was blocked.

Under the new agreement approved Wednesday, voters who have an approved government ID must show it to cast a ballot. But those who lack an acceptable ID can use another document, such as a utility bill, an expired license from another state, or a government check, to prove their identity and be able to vote.

While big philosophical issues are at stake, so are more concrete political concerns. Republicans believe they generally do better in low-turnout elections, while Democrats expect to do better when the voter pool is broader.

And every cycle, both sides attempt to work the refs, so to speak, in arguing over how broadly to draw the lines around who is able to vote.

Voter ID laws on their face aren’t unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled in a case out of Indiana earlier this decade. But the justices left open the chance to challenge specific laws as discriminatory or too burdensome — and that’s just what advocates have done.

“There was a real overall sense that race was playing a significant role in driving these new voting restrictions,” Ms. Weiser said, pointing to research that said states that saw a spike in minority voter turnout in recent elections rushed to impose stricter requirements, such as ID, narrower grace periods for early voting, or changes to registration.

But Logan Churchwell, spokesman for True the Vote, which fights voter fraud, said charges of discrimination are misplaced.

He said minority voters should be offended by the Obama administration’s argument in North Carolina, where it successfully sued to stop an ID law. Mr. Churchwell said the crux of the Justice Department’s argument was that black voters were less able to follow election rules, including obtaining ID, than white voters.

“These rulings really do come from a place of bigotry — that soft bigotry of low expectations,” he said.

Mr. Churchwell said that despite some of the court rulings, the basics of most of the ID laws remain intact. And he said state legislatures will come back and tweak laws next year to fix problems the courts do identify.

“Overall, people that have a problem with voter-ID laws are patting themselves on the back, but they’re having to settle for these very minor victories,” he said.

It’s impossible to say exactly how many more voters would show up on Nov. 8 without the strict laws.

In Texas, some 1.2 million people who could be eligible to vote lack acceptable ID, but only about half of those are registered right now, and it’s unclear how many of them would show up, or how many would be able to cast a ballot anyway under one of the law’s exceptions.

But Mr. Churchwell said it’s tougher to prove the other side of the coin — the number of people weeded out by stricter ID requirements — unless states actually have the ID rules in place.

“We don’t need to be arguing over how many angels can be dancing on the head of a pin. We need to look at the people who went to vote and because of a voter-ID law got turned away and had to vote provisional,” he said.

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